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Albuquerque Anchor Institutions Form Coalition to Boost Local Economy

At any given point in time, there are at least a few thousand job openings at anchor institutions in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Approximately half of these are entry-level positions. Normally this would be great news for a community. If jobs are plentiful, it must mean the local economy is doing well—right?

Yet, it’s not that straightforward. Many of Albuquerque’s medical and educational institutions have trouble filling open positions, even those at entry level. Meanwhile, the city’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average and the state’s unemployment rate is the second highest in the entire nation. There’s a fundamental mismatch between the skills required for open positions and the skill levels of Albuquerque residents. As a result, many of the city’s anchors have found themselves trying to recruit out of state talent for jobs that should otherwise be a great fit for local residents.

For instance, Presbyterian Hospital, which employs more than 7,300 people, has struggled to fill entry-level engineering positions. These jobs don’t require a degree—only some basic training. To fill these positions, Presbyterian often resorts to recruiting workers from outside the region. Sometimes these positions go unfilled.

These missed opportunities for the residents of Albuquerque weren’t lost on Randy Royster, President and CEO of the Albuquerque Community Foundation. “There are many, many millions of dollars of services and products that our anchor institutions access from out of state,” he says. “The most successful thing we can do in terms of attracting jobs in New Mexico and developing our economy isn’t looking at ‘how can we get a Tesla to move to New Mexico?’ It’s about looking at what we have right here to develop job opportunities and training and purchasing, and therefore supplying these opportunities locally.” This theory is supported by recent ICIC research highlighting the impact of growing local, small businesses.

Leadership from Albuquerque’s anchor institutions also agreed with that sentiment. But rather than simply agreeing that something needs to be done, the anchors have organized a coalition of their peers to affect meaningful change.

In September of last year, six of the city’s anchors and largest employers announced the “Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque” initiative—a collaborative effort to hire local, buy local, and provide support for local business growth. Participating anchors include the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (HSC), Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Albuquerque Public Schools, Central New Mexico Community College (CNMCC), First Choice Community Healthcare, and the City of Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Community Foundation is a critical partner, serving as the convening organization.

“Anchor institutions have a long-term investment in the communities they serve,” says Richard S. Larson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice Chancellor at HSC. “They plan on timescales of decades, rather than years. We are mapping out a strategy to help grow our city’s economy for the twenty-first century.”

One of the coalition’s first efforts was to host a Buy Local Joint Procurement Fair in April that included the City, HSC, Albuquerque Public Schools and CNMCC. Representatives from each organization gave presentations about their procurement practices and shared forecasts about the goods and services they planned to procure in the coming years.

The Procurement Fair was held in partnership with the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce as a way of increasing participation among minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBs).

Synthia Jaramillo, COO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, said, “As the leading voice for local minority, women and veteran owned businesses, we know it is extremely important that we create more economic opportunities. We want small businesses to have the same opportunities and access as large companies when it comes to New Mexico procurements and initiatives.”

Small businesses, particularly MWBEs, have historically struggled to access procurement opportunities when competing against larger corporations. Yet buying locally helps to sustain the local economy, ensures diversity in the marketplace, and is said to help strengthen a city’s sense of community.

In recent months, Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque has started to gain even more momentum.

The initiative was recently awarded a nearly $38,000 grant from the Albuquerque Community Foundation to seed the creation of two new programs: Operation: Carrots and Project Hire.

Operation: Carrots is an effort among HSC, Presbyterian, Albuquerque Public Schools and First Choice to increase their food service spending with local farms. This collaboration helps to bring more fresh, healthy food into the anchors’ cafeterias for patients, staff, and visitors. In addition, the increasing demand provides an incentive for farmers to increase production, which boosts farmers’ revenues and helps to create jobs. With Operation: Carrots, Presbyterian is pushing forward with its healthy eating initiatives, expanding on its other successful ventures, like growers’ markets on hospital campuses and writing “perscriptions” for fresh fruits and veggies.

Project Hire is an effort that seeks to expand local hiring efforts to fill the entry-level positions at participating anchors. HSC, CNMCC and Albuquerque Public Schools are working to create a training pipeline to prepare residents from targeted neighborhoods for entry-level positions at HSC and in the school system. Once residents have a foot in the door, the anchors strive to “put them on a career path where they could turn some of the basic entry-level jobs up to becoming a coder or biller,” or other higher-paying position, says Larson.

Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque is not the first collective of anchors to come together to strengthen their local community. One of the first in the country was formed in Cleveland, where a group of hospitals and universities formed the “Greater University Circle” initiative in 2005 using a similar buy local/hire local strategy that helped to create nearly two thousand new jobs for local residents. ICIC is currently working in Newark to establish the Newark Anchor Collaborative that will utilize a similar strategy.

Individually, anchors can drive meaningful change in their surrounding communities. Anchors that work collectively magnify that impact, and Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque is a reminder of the potential impact anchor institutions can have on inner cities in particular.

There are more than 7,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. that collectively spend over $200 billion on goods and services each year. The nation’s hospitals spend another $320 billion. Approximately one-quarter of these anchor institutions are located within inner cities. And in each of the nation’s 20 largest cities, a university or academic medical center is among the top ten private employers.

Since 1994, ICIC has been at the forefront of developing a shared value framework that explores the mutually beneficial roles anchor institutions can play in their communities to expand economic opportunities while also delivering value to the institutions. Visit our research page to learn more about how anchor institutions can support inclusive economic growth and development.

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